Why Women are Blamed for Being Sexually Harassed: The Effects of Empathy for Female Victims and Male Perpetrators

Renata Bongiorno, Chloe Langbroek, Paul G. Bain, Michelle Ting, Michelle K. Ryan

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The #MeToo movement has highlighted the widespread problem of men’s sexual harassment of women. Women are typically reluctant to make a sexual-harassment complaint and often encounter victim-blaming attitudes when they do, especially from men. Informed by the social identity perspective, two experiments examined the influence of empathy—both for women who are sexually harassed and for male harassers—on men’s and women’s propensity to blame victims. In Study 1, university students (N = 97) responded to a vignette describing a male student’s harassment of a female student. Men blamed the victim more than women, which was explained by their greater empathy for the male perpetrator but not lesser empathy for the female victim. Using the same vignette, Study 2 asked university students (N = 135) to take either the male perpetrator’s or the female victim’s perspective. Regardless of participant gender, participants who took the male-perpetrator’s perspective versus the female-victim’s perspective reported greater victim blame, and this was explained by their greater empathy for the male perpetrator and lesser empathy for the female victim. Together, the findings provide evidence to suggest that male-perpetrator empathy may be equally or more important than female-victim empathy for explaining victim blame for sexual harassment. Implications for social-change, including policies to limit the effects of male-perpetrator empathy when responding to sexual-harassment complaints are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-27
Number of pages17
JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
Issue number1
Early online date18 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • empathy
  • sexual harassment
  • victim blame

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)

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